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Garden Diary Update: Hollyhocks and Chives

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I have just looked at our garden diary to refresh my memory for this garden blog post, only to be faced with a dreadful fact. Not to beat about the bush (no pun intended) I see that we haven’t written a single garden entry since December 2015. Haphazard we may often be at diary keeping, but eight months of no entries is hitting a new low even for us. As it happens, this hasn’t been our most industrious gardening season, but even so, you would be forgiven for thinking that we’ve done nowt this year to judge by the accusingly blank pages. Dear reader and garden lover, I promise you that we were not entirely idle this year; merely not as active in the compost as we usually like to be.

After a spring in which we didn’t manage to get any flower or vegetable seeds sown, we decided that this season we would effectively mark time. It was to be a year of maintaining, improving, dividing and re-planting before making fresh plans for next spring. There was even a foolish plan to clean and re-varnish the garden furniture. I have to confess directly that I have never even picked up a piece of sand paper. I have however, lifted and divided a patch of chives and attempted to do the same to some badly placed hollyhocks. The chives were very accommodating and fell in with my wishes, whereas the hollyhocks fought back resiliently. It may have been a mistake to attempt to move and divide them, but I initially planted them in the front of a border, where they are also struggling for headroom because of spreading tree branches. In short, to get the best out of the plants, a move was required.

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I raised hollyhock (Antwerp Mixed) seedlings in 2010 and bedded out the young plants the following year. The Mr Fothergill’s seed packet promised a variety of shades in pink and yellow flowers but I think I only ever had one pink shade, which was not robust and subsequently died. The single yellow shade is pretty and the flowers seem to be attractive to bees so I am anxious to keep hold of my home raised progeny. I decided to cut the stems down as far as possible, so that it would be easier to dig out the roots. At this stage of growth, I am not even sure whether I am trying to lift one large plant or multiple smaller ones. I encountered problems when starting to dig a trench around the hollyhock, when I found it hard to distinguish which roots belonged and which were spreading hedge roots. Either way, after much digging I could not find a way to release the plant(s) without damage. The result of my attempted hollyhock moving is that the original plants remain exactly where they were last year, having stubbornly refused to let go. They have even flowered, though admittedly not profusely.

Thus, I still have my original hollyhock in situ for another season, with the prospect of much more digging and disentangling of roots if I am ever going to move it. On the plus side, I now have several small plants from the off cuts, two of which I have settled into a spare patch in the border (suitably near the rear). All I can say is that hollyhocks are certainly tough customers and born survivors. This must be good news for our local bee population, along with the fact that my chives are proliferating madly and likely to take over the remainder of the garden. Bees seem to love the chive flowers so I never bother to remove them, as I believe you are supposed to do, so you have better flavour in the leaves. I have re-planted most of the divided chives in odd spaces that need filling. While doing that, I cut down many of the plants and have chopped and frozen chives leaves to use during the winter. We love doing scrambled eggs with chives; they are also nice in egg mayonnaise.

That’s all for now on the garden front; I still need to plant out a couple more hollyhock off-cuts and the remainder of the chive roots. I have made a gallery of what is growing now and will offer another garden update soon (I hope!).

How does your garden grow?

 

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Everything in the Garden is…

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We thought we would give you a little garden update in this post, so to do that I have typed up some notes from a recent garden diary entry. The diary entries can tend to be rather erratic but we are trying to be more consistent this year. It is useful to have some jottings on what worked and what did not; what we did when; and what varieties/brands of seeds we have planted. Well, that’s the theory anyway. I have to confess that this weekend I have discovered that what I thought were California poppies turn out to be Welsh poppies so I have changed that in my notes. (It is thanks to Fionnuala Fallon in the Irish Times Saturday magazine for the information!).

Bleeding Heart and Primulas

Cheerful Spring Colours

I have included here a couple of pictures that I took this spring, which I am hoping to print off and add to the diary. I keep leaving pages free for pictures, seed packets and magazine snippets but I never manage to stick them in. This creates a permanent To Be Stuck Pile (TBS Pile) which bears an amazing resemblance to the pile of recipes waiting to be put into my recipe folder. And to the pile of books waiting to be read…

Here is the garden diary entry for June 12th noting what our green fingers got up to recently:

This evening we put out the sweet William plants in between the hollyhocks and the chives/gladioli. I think we will have to divide the hollyhocks next year if possible; if so it would be a good idea to reposition them further to the back of the border.

Three courgette seedlings are coming up nicely and the parsley is settling down. On Monday, we fetched our dwarf raspberry cane from Mr Middleton’s garden shop. This of course required yet another trip to Homebase to buy a suitable pot. Actually the one we bought was on the large side at 21l, but probably better to be too large than too small. We also bought a pot for the Rowan tree – not sure if now is the best time to re-pot it as it is just setting fruit.

Verity also bought paint for her pallet project (in match pots) – watch this space! One lonely iris adorns the bulb/wildflower patch – goodness knows where all the rest of them went. However, we do have four honeybells (I think) and many Welsh poppies out (yellow and orange).

Pansies

These are still going strong!

Also on Monday, we went elderflower foraging along the Dodder. We amassed about forty heads of varying sizes. All now stored away in the freezer in two plastic tubs. It’s amazing how useful Google can be – what did we ever do before it answered our every question? [I had been searching to see whether it was possible to freeze elderflowers] Well, I suppose we would have consulted a gardening books/wild flower book or an expert relative or friend. Sometimes I wish granddad were still around to talk gardens.

Need to put some work into pulling the bulb patch back into shape. We have both had a go at it recently but it needs another push. Some things wildly over growing others (such as the camomile being overwhelmed) and the weeds need attention. Strawberry plants have self-seeded there which is nice.

There’s where the entry finishes and I have to admit that the next entry wasn’t written until the 26th so we are not being quite as dedicated as I would like. Still, I suppose the main thing is to be keeping up with the gardening. It’s easier to catch up with a few notes than it is to catch up on the weeds!

More on the garden anon…meanwhile, do tell us how your garden grows!

Spring has Sprung: buying seeds

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I must have been feeling spring in the air at the weekend as I have bought my first seeds of the year (four packets of vegetable seeds to be precise). This is despite the fact that the weather is still cold outside and possibly likely to get worse before it gets any better. It’s not even as if we have a planting plan sorted out yet, for heaven’s sake! So what was I thinking of?

The answer is simply that thinking had very little to do with it, instinct took over the moment that I spotted the rack of seed packets. As it has so often done before, (and will undoubtedly do again). I think I really need some sort of therapy to deal with this madness (or boundless optimism, obsession, call it what you will). I initially bought three packets then compounded my madness by returning to the shop (a branch of Lidl) and buying a packet of seeds that I had been dithering over. Clearly, I gave in to my inner optimist yet again. The optimist in me has also overridden any objections to buying an unfamiliar seeds brand. I usually try to stick to something I know or that I have seen recommended so I hope my impulse pays off.

Beans & Cucumber

This is what they should look like..

Now I know that the gardeners among you are full of curiosity about my seed buying so I will tell you what we will be attempting to grow this season. Despite my saying that no gardening plan exists, we did have a discussion in the autumn about planting more varieties of beans next year. This explains my decision on Sunday to buy a packet of an unusual type of French bean. The yellow pods look pretty and I like the sound of growing a non-string variety. I will probably also grow broad beans again as they were successful before now and for the same reason runner beans, since you have the bonus of the scarlet flowers.

Courgettes

Should be scrumptious!

We are big fans of courgettes, both growing them and eating them so I am hoping that these two varieties will be fruitful (sorry about the pun, my finger slipped on the keyboard). I have grown round varieties before and they make a nice change from cylindrical courgettes. Ideally, we will have some of the round green ones and the yellow patty pan shapes ready to cook and serve together. Every year I intend to have a go at stuffing and cooking some courgette flowers but I have never managed to do so. It looks such a splendid item in cookery books that I feel I really must try it sometime. Maybe this will be the year that I finally have a go at it. I would be interested in hearing from anyone that has tried a recipe for stuffed courgette flowers.

My final seed packet is a variety of outdoor cucumber, Akito, which has dark green prickly-skinned fruit. I haven’t grown cucumbers for years so I would like to try it again. Last time I grew an indoor sort in an unheated glassed in veranda, which proved very successful. That year I forced every visitor to take home at least one cucumber, such was the size of the crop. I am not sure how we will fare with an outdoor type but I am hoping to emulate my earlier achievement.

Watch this space!

 

Strawberries in the Garden

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I’m in garden diary mode again this week for my latest contribution to Curiously, Creatively and I thought I would give an overview of what we’ve been up to in the garden this season. We have had our share (possibly more than our fair share) of slug related horticultural disasters but we are also shaping up for some successes too. The one thing that we can’t stop growing is the weeds, but then I suppose everyone has that problem. We decided not to use weed killer so it’s a labour intensive activity to keep everything under some semblance of control.

Now, you wouldn’t have noticed me slipping out for a while, but I popped out to run the mower over the grass at the front and back of the house (just in case the fine weather breaks tomorrow). Consequently I am feeling very pleased with myself and have a pleasant glow of virtuousness. It won’t last long however because I’m already spotting the bits I have missed in my sprint over the lawn. For the moment, I will refuse to dwell on my mowing technique or the lack thereof, and concentrate on the positive. One very positive thing is that the weather this evening is still warm enough to enable typing al fresco, which feels very continental indeed.

Plate of Strawberry tarts

Tea time treat…

I have just been doing a round of watering and I have picked a few more of our mini strawberries. We have a variety called ‘Sweetheart’ and strictly speaking the plants belong to my blogging partner. The seeds came in a child’s gardening kit a few years ago and we now have eight or nine plants. I think some of them have reached the stage of needing dividing now, so I need to research the best time to do this. I’m guessing early spring might be best. A strawberry plant has established itself in our bulb and wildflower patch without so much as a by your leave, but we’ve decided to leave it there as it fits in rather well.

Over the years, the main problem we have found with this type of strawberry is that the plants with their tiny fruits look very decorative, but once picked, they don’t go very far. Last year we came up with a way of solving the problem, which is really just common sense. We freeze the berries as we pick them, which is usually a small handful most days during the summer. When we have accumulated a tub full then we can make a trifle or a pudding of some sort. Most recently, we made some small strawberry starts decorated with pastry custard. I just baked some small tart cases blind and then topped them with strawberry compote, and we piped thick custard on the top when the tarts were cool. Not exactly Cordon Bleu standard, but very tasty nevertheless.

Apart from the strawberries, this week I’ve picked four of the ‘Tumbler’ tomatoes and we should have more ripening soon. After years of only having green fruit from standard varieties, we started only to grow the cherry varieties that we have more chance of ripening in an Irish summer without a green house. There are potatoes growing in bags, the ‘Blue Danube’ variety bought from a garden centre in Blessington. It’s a new sort for us so I’m looking forward to seeing how they turn out. The flowers are lovely shade of lilac blue (picture to follow) and look very pretty next to the blue lobelia that grows over the side of the bay tree’s pot.

I haven’t got as far in my garden round up as I meant to do, so I’ll fill you in on our other growing projects next time. Meanwhile, we’d love to hear what you’re growing this year.

Any hints or tips for varieties to grow would be great too!

 

The Garden Diary: An Introduction

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I’ve mentioned my garden diary over on The Landing Book Shelves but I suppose it should now more properly be called ‘our’ garden diary. Furthermore, the garden diary is into its second volume at this stage (a rather smart Paperblank journal from He Who Put The Shelves Up) so we’re heading towards a trilogy of diaries at least. It’s fascinating to read back over several years worth of gardening activities, some of which was indoor gardening as I lived in a flat for about ten years. The only thing I regret about keeping the diary is that I wasn’t more systematic in maintaining plant and growing records. Some plants or seeds make an appearance and then disappear without trace (slugs, green-fly, who knows?)

The first volume of the diary dates back to 1990 or 1991, with the first definite date being an entry for July – August 1991 on page 33 (yes, I numbered the pages at some stage). I’m no longer sure what I had in mind for the book when, on the first page I wrote down a list of suggestions for plants to grow indoors. Whatever I might have intended, I think the book just evolved into a garden diary cum notebook over time. Anyway, some of my growing indoors ideas were herbs such as coriander, mustard, cress, dill and rosemary. I apparently had a taste for the exotic, having jotted down pineapple sage, dwarf golden sage and lemon thyme.

The page ends with a cryptic exclamation to ’See Pip Book!’ which refers to a book that I bought around that time, all about growing plants from fruit pips and stones. Over the years, I have attempted avocado and peach stones as well as apple and various citrus pips. I have to admit to varying degrees with these, though probably orange and lemon pips have been the most rewarding. I am in no doubt that avocado stones have a mind of their own when it comes to growth patterns. You need a firm hand with them or else all is lost.

Borage blossoms

Pink and Blue…

Following on from the first page, are several pages devoted to herbs cultivation. Some of my entries are hand written and some are paragraphs cut, I think, from gardening magazines. In browsing through the herbs, I find that the first herb is borage. I never did grow any, though Verity and I have been thinking recently about adding some to our herb collection:

“The leaves of borage, which have a distinct cucumber flavour, can be used in salad when they are young and not coarse. You can boil the leaves, or make fritters from them. The pretty blue flowers can be sprinkled over salads and look good in long summer drinks, especially Pimms, and can be put into ice-making trays and frozen for use in winter.”

A recent Sunday Times magazine feature mentions that borage leaves can be chopped into yoghurt or cream to make a dip, which I assume would be a version of a tzatziki recipe. As there’s about twenty years between both of these borage related cuttings, I feel that the time has come actually to grow the plant. The question that is now distracting me is whether I should stick the more recent borage cutting into the first volume for continuity’s sake or enter it into the newer book for accuracy’s sake. I’ll think about it, but in the meantime I should go hunting for borage seeds amongst the seed catalogues and then optimistically research some borage recipes.

We’d love to hear about your experiences with garden diaries, herb growing, or indeed any sort of growing!

Borage picture credit: Wikipedia, with thanks.

 

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